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Play vs Competition

KellerEmotional Intelligence, Parenting Leave a Comment

Opposites or a Symbiotic Relationship?

The link between playful learning and arresting anxiety while developing confident, confident, capable citizens of character, and competition is an interesting one.  Competition within the homo sapien tribes or clans have usually been based on fun and personal achievement of one’s own goal.  It is the domination and the attempt to be superior which drives the negative competition.  In fact the word “competition” comes from the Latin word “competere” – to strive for, and only in the 17th century did the Latin word competitio and the English word compete combine to make up the word competition.

Our philosophy is that students must learn the incredible power of “striving” for a “ferocious goal

The action of STRIVE is the achievement of a personal goal and not the domination of others or of being superior.  In fact, in our history, it is that goal that has driven most wars and abuse, be it racism, gender violence or ethnic cleansing.  

The Story of the 2018 Winter Olympics
2018 Winter Olympic Games

The 2018 Winter Olympics was a moment when I discovered a truth.  Norway, a small country with a population of less than 5 million walked away with the most medals – 39 in fact.  When interviewed, the lead coach explained that in Norway all sport up until the age of 13 years is played without keeping score.  There is never a winner or a loser – just a collaborative experience with friends, mastering a range of skills.  As a result, all Norwegian participate in sport because there is never the anxiety of being dropped because you are not good enough.  Sport is about fun and if this is the basis of childhood sport, the flow into competitive teen and adult sport has a strong launch pad.The number of children participating in these sports is massive.  

This philosophy drives our approach to intrinsic motivation as opposed to an extrinsic “work for a gold star”…to please the teacher/parent, approach.  We have a deep desire to praise the process and not only the product. Many of us have a strongly competitive instinct.  I certainly do.  But the reality is that my competitive instinct has limited my involvement in things that I discovered in my childhood that I was not good at – or could not win.   It took me a long time to recognise that life is not about only winning, but participating and having fun.


This is an important aspect of our approach in education.  Being stretched/extended/challenged is more important than getting 100% for work that you find easy or can learn.  In our training of staff we are encouraging them to teach children to set “ferocious goals” – goals that are almost impossible to achieve.  We are also teaching staff that achievement is recorded as YET or NOT YET.  If the answer is not correct, it is not a matter of being right or wrong – but that they have not mastered it “YET”. If we want them to have a Growth Mindset, then we need them to struggle. because a struggling brain grows neural pathways.  A regurgitative brain shows very poor activity on an fMRI scan.

What is fascinating is that when the foundations are less competitive, more collaborative and fun based, engagement rises, participation increases, enjoyment is tangible and long term excellence is noted, as we saw in the Winter Olympics of 2018 – which was a highly competitive adult environment.

Play and competition – a symbiotic relationship

Competition will always be with us – but it is not a necessary part of the primary school curriculum.  In fact the global Six C’s for educating successful adults of the future do not include it at all.  Rather, Communication – Creativity – Collaboration – Critical Thinking – Character – Citizenship rise to the top.   


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